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Is terrorism ever justified?

Is terrorism ever justified?

Good question. Someone who is a consequentialist --that is, a person who believes the morality of an act is contingent on its actual or expected consequences such as the act's producing great happiness or unhappiness-- might have to answer "yes." This is because there are probably cases (or there could be hypothetical cases) when an act of terrorism will produce some greater good or avoid some otherwise inevitable horror and there is no other act available to the parties involved. It is this implication of consequentialism that compels some of us to reject it. Some of us think there are what might be called absolute evils, evil that is so awful that one must not perform the evil no matter what ("even if the heavens fall" or something like that, is an expression sometimes used here). I believe Gandhi once observed that if he had to choose between two evils, he would choose neither (in other words, he would challenge the premise that he "had to choose"). Those of us who think there are some wrongs that are wrong no matter how good the consequences are sometimes called deontologists.

Your question might meet with different responses depending on how "terrorism" is defined and if one were to argue about the permissibility of some very minor act of terrorism (subjecting only a few people to fear but without any intent on actually inflicting physical harm) in order to avoid some profoundly worst act of terrorism. But if we think about the recent attack in Paris, I myself think that there is no reason (probable or imaginary) that would justify such a massacre. Arguments might be difficult here. That is, I might have trouble convincing a self-confident consequentialist. But one objection to consequentialism that I believe to be forceful is that consequentialism seems to be on a slippery slope such that almost anything (massive rapes, murder, torture...)might be justified so long as those acts would produce greater consequences and there is no other action available that would produce greater consequences. That consequence seems to me to run against moral experience and the teaching of many, significant moral and religious traditions (that I deeply respect).

what can philosophy do for the world peace?

what can philosophy do for the world peace?

First, philosophy can contribute to world peace by helping us think through the ethical importance of peace -- and of war. Philosophy has a long tradition of inquiry into the conditions for morally justifiable violence. A few philosophers have glorified war. Others have argued that war is justified when war advances a state's interests' ('realists') or when certain conditions are met (just war theory). Other philosophers have advocated for pacifism. Good overviews of these positions are available here:

Second, philosophy can contribute to world peace by undermining the conditions under which war tends to thrive and by pointing to alternative ways to resolve conflicts that might otherwise lead to violence. Starry-eyed though this might sound, philosophical inquiry tends to induce, on the one hand, modesty or humility about one's own beliefs, as well, on the other hand, as a greater appreciation for the merits of others' beliefs. Thus, philosophy can serve to defuse, or at least dampen, conflicts arising from clashing worldviews about ethics, religions, etc. Going along with this, philosophy offers us a non-violent model for resolving our disputes: through reasoned argument. Far better in most every case for us to reach a reasoned consensus that avoids war than to march toward an armed conflict.

Of course, philosophy is no magic pill, world peace-wise. But I'm pretty confident that a healthy dose of philosophy could do a lot to diminish the sad human tendency toward intercommunity violence.

Some states mandate an automatic death penalty for murdering a law enforcement

Some states mandate an automatic death penalty for murdering a law enforcement officer. How can this possibly be just when it elevates the victim above that of common civilians? I agree with the Aristotelian conception of justice as only partially overlapping that of morality but consistency is crucial to rationality in both judgment and conduct. Actions ought to be judged similarly unless there are morally relevant dissimilarities between them so a law-abiding or even a vindictive police officer, already armed and aware of the risks of his profession, is the same as any other civilian, both legally and morally. Common law jurisdictions work on the basis that all citizens are equal in intrinsic worth--wouldn't the imperative be to either entirely repeal the death penalty for murder or use it in every single instance?

I'm going to largely duck your last question: I doubt even the most enthusiastic proponents of the death penalty believe it should be imposed for every murder. Most jurisdictions distinguish between first-degree murder, second-degree, etc., precisely because not all murders are morally serious enough to merit the death penalty (which it is not to say that any murder merits the death penalty).

But on to your main question: Should the death penalty be automatic for murdering a law enforcement officer but not automatic for murdering anyone else? I can think of three possible rationales for an affirmative answer. I'm not sure I find any of them convincing, but I'll leave that to your judgment.

The first is that killing law enforcement is morally worse than killing someone else and so automatically deserves a harsh punishment. Your position seems to be that this is not so: That in order for killing law enforcement to be morally worse than killing someone else, there must be something about the officer that lends the officer more 'intrinsic worth' than the typical citizen. I agree that is probably not a very promising way of explaining how killing law enforcement might be morally worse than killing others. But a slightly more attractive thought is that killing law enforcement reflects more negatively on the character of the murderer than does killing someone else. Perhaps killing law enforcement shows greater contempt for law and legal norms.

A second possible way to defend the automatic death penalty in such cases is to suggest that because police work is inherently dangerous, the law should impose additional penalties on killing law enforcement in order to discourage such killings. Law enforcement are unusually vulnerable to be killed, so preventing them from being killed may require punishments that are harsh and unambiguous. A further consideration of this sort is that perhaps it would be harder to recruit police without this harsh penalty for killing them.

A final rationale rests on what's often called the 'expressive' theory of punishment. This view says that punishment is justified as our moral condemnation of a criminal's wrongful act. If the killing of police induces greater outrage than the killing of others, then (according to this theory), those who kill police should be shown less leniency than those who kill others. Obvious question to ask here: What, if anything, justifies our greater outrage at killing law enforcement? It might seem that this rationale ends up requiring, or collapsing into, the first: that those who kill police show themselves to be morally worse than those who kill others.

And let me add: Great question! (To my knowledge, philosophers haven't taken up this issue directly.)

Are all political systems equal, meaning they bring out the goods that we all

Are all political systems equal, meaning they bring out the goods that we all want in our society, when ideally practiced, or some would necessarily come out better than others just by the fact of their nature, arrangement and constitution? For instance, I once held the belief that communism is an equally good way of a government as democracy if it is ideally practiced, but I now doubt this point of view. Do I have good reasons to doubt it?

You haven't told us your reasons for doubting it, so that's hard to answer. But neither "communism" or "democracy" is a sufficiently well-defined concept to be of any use for the important question you want to raise. First, it's essential to distinguish between the historical governments that described themselves (or were described by others) as "communist" (or whatever) and what "communism" might have meant before or after that as an aspiration or a political or social ideal, or even just as a description. These are entirely different things and often have no relation to each other at all. Second, there is the question about which features of a given society "matter" in the sense that they actually characterize how the society "works," i.e. that they influence other parameters in a society and determine what happens in it, how people are treated, how rich they are, etc. Insofar as we know anything about this at all, such outcomes generally have little to do with the extremely crude terms generally used to describe political and economic systems: liberal democracy, fascism, capitalism, authoritarianism, dictatorship, oligarchy, and so on.

You would think, since this subject is of such extreme importance for human welfare, and of such intense concern e.g. to all the many people who have strong political opinions, that there would be an academic subject, or a discipline out there somewhere, in which a more rigorous and empirically defensible classification system or taxonomy of institutional configurations could be found, and in which the outcomes of the various configurations so defined were compared in terms of, say, individual autonomy, wealth, life expectancy, adaptability to change or migration, quality of life, social conflict, and so on. But no, there is no such thing! The closest thing we have are the very tentative gropings in development economics, in the theory of economic growth, and in the corresponding parts of economic history, to study the institutional contexts of growth and development, the distributional and welfare consequences of those institutional frameworks, and such things. On the surface the conceptual sophistication of these studies can appear to be quite advanced; economists who engage with these questions employ evolutionary game theory and other dynamic modelling resources, but actually the models, so far at least, have little or no empirical traction. In fact, our empirical knowledge of institutional systems is appallingly thin; as I said, we don’t even have a way of characterizing different systems, though we do know that some past and present societies worked very differently from each other in specifiable ways. But very few people are even working on this stuff, and the effective conceptual sophistication of the study of institutions hasn’t really advanced beyond the third book of Hume’s Treatise (I do agree with Russell Hardin that Hume was way ahead of his time, but that doesn't excuse our abject ignorance two or three centuries later).

You might well think this a scandal, and you would be right. Why aren’t people working on these questions that are of such urgent and obvious importance to human life? Why aren’t these questions at the very center of academic discussion? Well, partly it’s a typically academic pathology: economists are rewarded for doing theory, not empirical work, and historians are not interested in economic or institutional history any more. Economic history, until a decade or two ago, was a central and respectable part of the academic discipline of history, but that has largely died out; economic history is now done almost entirely by economists. And economists simply can’t afford the detailed and painstaking (and partly qualitative) empirical work that is required to figure out how a local or regional society actually works, because that kind of work doesn’t get you even into the economic history journals these days (which are now all run by economists), let alone the mainstream economics journals you need to publish in to get a job in a good department. So in the near term, at least, there is little hope that the situation will improve.

Does one need to consent to a social contract? It seems that they are something

Does one need to consent to a social contract? It seems that they are something people are often born into and while it is sometimes possible to move somewhere else that is not always the case, for example someone who is born somewhere where travel is restricted because of the social contract itself or other circumstances (such as North Korea). How does this affect the nature of the social contract?

Thanks for this question. I'm not an expert in this field but I noticed no one has answered this yet. I will attempt a preliminary answer for you. There are a couple (at least) different kinds of "contract" theories out there. Without going into too much about the varieties, just to give you an idea of how complex this issue is, I'll mention two somewhat specific examples. First, consider Hobbes. His work Leviathan contains a classic formulation of contract theory. In it, he offers three hints at an answer to your question. First, he argues that contracts that you enter into by force are legitimate. So, for example, if someone holds a gun to your head and will shoot you unless you agree to a contract, that's still a valid contract (if you agree to it). You might think that this is a case in which no consent was given. The person agrees, but only because the person was forced or coerced. If that's right, then the answer to your question, on this view, is "no, consent is not required." Another idea in Hobbes is tacit consent. This is explored in more detail, for example, in Kavka's very helpful book on Hobbesian moral theory. The idea is that, by reaping the benefits of our society (resources, security, etc), by following laws, by voting and participating, etc., you are tacitly consenting to the contract. So although you never explicitly say "I agree," you have consented simply by living here and playing along. In that case, the answer to your question is "yes" but it is very easy to count as having consented. Finally, there is inherited consent (though this is tricky in various ways). Hobbes thinks that when you are a child the parent is your sovereign. Suppose your parent has consented to be bound to the ruler, a higher sovereign. Then you are, as a result, also under that sovereign in the contract that your parents effectively made for you. Hobbes thinks that this chain could go back all the way to Adam and Eve, since their child was under their sovereignty. So as long as someone at some point in your lineage agreed to a contract and that contract has not been nullified, you're under it to. In that case, your consent is not needed any more than your being under the power of your parents requires consent.
Those are a few of ideas from Hobbes. A more contemporary contract theory is that of John Rawls. The idea there is that the just arrangement is determined, not by what people actually happen to agree to, but by what rational people *would* or *should* agree to under certain conditions (the conditions include that each person is ignorant of his or her own position in society...this takes a while to explain and there are many complexities and difficulties here). So, the question there may seem to be whether you should, as a rational person, consent, not whether you actually do consent. However, it could be argued that the rational thing to consent to is a system of laws that does not bind people to a contract unless they've explicitly consented. So, in that case, contracts do require actual consent afterall! We've now arrived at some complicated stuff that I will leave to the experts to explain...I hope that at least helps in getting started thinking about consent in contract theories.

Is bearing a child really a right? The state does not know much about its own

Is bearing a child really a right? The state does not know much about its own citizens other than date of birth and tax information so bringing unwanted children into the world is unfair to the child and the rest of society that must deal with all of the associated problems. Irresponsible parents or single mothers cannot guarantee the welfare or even the survival of their wanted children so why not prevent problems by passing a law allowing the state to licence and decide what type of people are allowed to have children according to certain criteria just like a driver's license? Those denied a license can always reapply at a later date once they've proved they are responsible enough. Right to privacy ends once the child leaves the womb since it is then a separate human and legal entity.

Your questions touches on a number of issues within the emerging philosophical field of procreative ethics, the field addressing questions concerning the ethics of reproduction and parenting.

I concur with the spirit of your last sentence: It is interesting that landmark legal rulings in the United States establishing legal rights to use birth control and the right to abortion both appealed to the right to privacy. But if there is a right to procreate, it is probably not best modelled on a right to privacy.

Your comments about licensing parents echo a well-known argument given by Hugh LaFollette in a 1980 article ( Here's my reconstruction of LaFollette's argument:

1. Incompetent parenting is harmful to children.
2. Societies are justified in restricting access to activities that are potentially harmful to others if those restrictions significantly reduce the likelihood of harm from those activities. (Compare, for example, driving cars or practicing medicine: We license these activities precisely because of their potential for harm.)
3. Licensing would-be parents would significantly reduce the likelihood of harm from incompetent parenting.
Therefore,societies are justified in licensing prospective parents.

LaFollette notes that most societies have very stringent requirements for adopting a child, so if one thinks those requirements are justified (that we should 'license' those who choose to parent children who are already born), it would seem no less justified to require licenses of parents who create their own child.

I won't weigh in with my own appraisal of this argument, leaving it, as they say, as an exercise to the reader. One of the admirable things about LaFollette's article is that it engages with many objections. I'll conclude simply by noting that, in my estimation, the most serious worries concern whether the licensing scheme would violate other rights of prospective parents.

I consider myself a socially liberal agnostic from the South. I turn 40 soon

I consider myself a socially liberal agnostic from the South. I turn 40 soon and was a Christian until I was 32 growing up in a southern Baptist family. While discussing today's world and politics with my family and friends, when I don't have an answer that satisfies them they usually change topics by calling me a "liberal" as if it is some sort of hurtful slur. I don't understand this b/c I actually know the definition and their is nothing hurtful about it. My biggest problem with them using this label is that, the one man they taught me to worship for most of my life preached feeding the poor (food stamps), healing the sick (socialized meds), and overly emphasized passivism (turning the other cheek/avoiding conflict), three very liberal ideas that seem to me common logical sense, yet they oppose those people that receive these services that they don't think deserve them. Am I missing something or should I be offended by being called this? The rhetoric I hear from Christians these days about...

I've never quite forgiven Ronald Reagan for making "liberal" into a slur, but letting that pass...

I don't think there's necessarily any inconsistency here. Jesus told us to feed the poor, heal the sick, and turn the other cheek. But he didn't say that the government should be in charge of all this. In fact Jesus had more or less nothing to say about how secular government should be set up (unless you can extract a political theory from his cryptic remark about rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's. It's consistent for someone to feel a duty to do what Jesus commanded and also to believe that the government shouldn't coercively extract money from people to carry out this mandate.

As it happens, I'm a liberal and am quite happy to see government tax us to feed people, cure them, educate them, and so on. But I don't think politically conservative Christians are automatically guilty of confusion, let alone bad faith.

If theft is committed as a form of political protest or civil disobedience

If theft is committed as a form of political protest or civil disobedience against capitalism, does that make it less immoral than if it was done solely for amusement?

Fascinating question. Off hand, it does seem that, in some cases, the motives you cite would make a difference. Imagine two people steal a sign advertising a bank that is involved with the unfair foreclosure of homes, leaving (let us imagine) many innocent persons homeless. A person who does the stealing as an act of protest and who, let us imagine, turns herself in to draw attention to this act of disobedience, seems (to use your terms) "less immoral" than one who steals the advertisement as a joke (perhaps using the sign as a tray to serve beer to friends while watching the world cup). In fact, we may find the person who did the theft out of matters of conscience heroic.

The difficulty in weighing motives, however, emerges when we dig deeper into why the persons have the motives they do. Is the person who acts to protest capitalism doing *that* solely for the sake of amusement? I came of age in the early 1970s and was present protesting the inauguration of President Nixon. A good number of us were protesting (or speaking for myself, I was protesting) as part of a date weekend. I did oppose the Nixon administration, but I also wanted to spend time with Melissa. Professing some overt political motive may not be the whole story. Moreover, there might be at least three factors that come into play in addition to matters of motive, and these involve (A) what is stolen, (B) how it is stolen, and (C) what happens after the theft.

(A) Stealing some things might be so gravely wrong that it does not matter what the person's intention might be. If I were knowingly to steal medicine that an innocent child needs and she dies for lack of the medicine, I think I should be judged equally guilty of homicide whether this was done to protest capitalism or for the sake of amusement.

(B) In terms of how a theft is committed, I think there would be a significant difference if the theft was committed violently or not, independent of motives. We might also want to factor in the mental state of the robber at the time: imagine the thief who was protesting capitalism was dangerously intoxicated or highly confused about the nature of property and capitalism. Similarly, imagine the thief who stole solely for amusement was under the confused impression that his amusing theft would help his friend coping with clinical depression. We might be more concerned about the thief's basic competence and mental health quite independent of motive. Silly examples, I agree, but they have some relevance.

(C) Our judgement on theft might be partly determined by what the thief does afterwards. Was what was stolen returned undamaged? What if the person who did the stealing out of amusement decided to use what was stolen later to help out the homeless?

Anyway, great question.

Is is true that justice is an essential element of law such that without it, law

Is is true that justice is an essential element of law such that without it, law cannot be law?

The big issue behind your question is the relationship between law and morality. That's a very big question, though on at lest one important view of what laws are (legal positivism) the answer to your question is no. On the positivist view, laws are, roughly, what lawmaking entities (legislatures, monarchs...) say they are. Whether a law is is another question, as is the question of whether you should obey some particular law.

Whether you think this is right at the end of the day, it fits the common sense thought that there can be bad laws that are still laws. For example: I'd say that at least some aspects of US civil forfeiture laws are actually unjust. They allow the government to seize your property in ways that, these days, many liberals and conservatives agree are unjust. But critics of those laws don't claim that they aren't actually laws; they argue that the laws should be changed.

In any case, there are laws that don't raise questions of justice. In the USA, the law says you drive on the right side of the road; in South Africa, it's the left. Laws like this aren't unjust, but there isn't really an issue of justice here. Justice isn't the only thing the law concerns itself with.

Should the first amendment cover the right to advocate violence? If a person

Should the first amendment cover the right to advocate violence? If a person honestly believes that assassinating the president is justified shouldn't that person have the right to express their opinion? I'm a little uncomfortable with the idea that the government should restrict that or ANY kind of political speech. I think that all political speech should be permitted perhaps especially ideas that radically oppose the current state of affairs and I can't think of a more fundamental way of opposing the system than the idea of a violent overthrow of the government or an administration and one which specifies explicitly what that would entail.

I remember in the 1960's there were many political philosophers who argued that the state tolerated opposition provided that it was ultimately not going to threaten the status quo. When liberals complimented their society for its freedom those opposed to them would say that the freedom only extended as far as allowing non-revolutionary change. In fact the latter sometimes suggested that the toleration of opposition was repressive, since it directed what would otherwise be radical demands for change into something more amenable to social cohesion.

Whatever one thinks of such a theory, the idea that people should be free to say absolutely anything at all has recently been challenged by the Charlie Hebdo events, and in many countries there is legislation forbidding people from saying things that are held to be offensive by others since that might lead to violence. Are we not entitled to demand a level of respect for other people and their beliefs? If I have a Jewish neighbor and I greet him each morning by calling him a fat Jewish pig, am I expressing a view which should be protected or am I being needlessly offensive? Perhaps this should not count as political speech, but if I abuse through speech or print the government in Turkey a recent law would punish me, and that seems to be going too far. A problem with encouraging violence is that it threatens to undermine the possibility of people living together amicably in any sort of society.

There used to be a saying in England that in a free society you can do anything you like so long as it does not frighten the horses. As you suggest, this implies tolerance for what is unlikely to upset the existing system, but those opposed to you would see violence as something that not only overthrows a particular government and sets up the conditions to continue to do this, to the detriment of society at large. Hence there might be grounds for disallowing it.